Barometer of belief
So many times I have heard it asked, not as a question but as an accusation; ‘why are you not more generous to people of good heart but who differ from you on theological issues?’ and why is it appropriate that at times a person will be your ally and at other times your adversary?
My way of explaining this is what I call the barometer of belief. Barometers measure atmospheric pressure so that you can tell if you are under the influence of a high pressure or low pressure cell. But the real value of a barometer is seeing the change in atmospheric pressure that is occurring. If the barometric pressure is declining then we are in for unsettled weather (at least in the Southern hemisphere).
The same is true of a person’s theological position. Whether a person is an ally or a foe has as much or more to do with where they are moving from and where they are moving to than the content of what they believe.
Every person begins the Christian life from a different point. It is normal and right to have a loyalty to the theological position of those who were instrumental in your conversion. We normally hold on tightly to what we were first taught about God.
But what you do with that matters. I have had the immense privilege over the years of reading the Bible with people who, when they know God better in his Word embrace the truth and make changes to their theology. That we have differing theology at the beginning of our time together doesn’t matter as we are seeking, with Bible open to know God better and change appropriately.
It is a different matter for a person who begins with an orthodox theology and then chooses to move away from that position. This is a barometric indication of change. It is absolutely right and our responsibility to ask why. It could be that the change was made because Scripture calls us to do so, but it could also be that other, less noble factors brought about this change. A person who deliberately chooses to move from orthodox faith to error should be challenged lovingly and with Bible open.
Where you are
The issues you face also affects who is a friend and who is an adversary. There are times when you can work with those who hold a different position to you. This will normally be to complete a specific task. For example people of different theological positions could work together for an end to the abuse of minority groups.
Who is your friend is also determined by who is your enemy. The old line that my enemy’s enemy is my friend is true. In the battle for souls, you can work with someone who trusts in the substitutionary, sacrificial death of Jesus but differs in some areas when you are fighting against those who believe the gospel truth is a fairy story and Christian faith is merely about morality.
Where you are going
Everyone is on a theological journey from where they are to where they are going. We should always engage in open Bible, honest dialogue with those with whom we disagree. I find that in doing this, it so often helps get us to the correct goal. It is in the context of these open, truth-centered relationships, that theological change is often generated.
In our churches
If someone once held a position you regard as orthodox and does so no longer it is right to ask ‘what made you change your position?’ This is loving, as the change is often an early warning sign of unsettled weather ahead.
Before we accuse someone of being harsh and critical of another’s position, look at where they have come from and where they are going. It may indeed be a very dangerous track they are on that will lead others astray.